The Common Good

Daddy's Girls

At a recent wedding I attended, one of the groomsmen toasted the bride saying that she was going to make the perfect wife because she had already demonstrated her ability to be her fiancé's full-time maid and wait on him and his friends hand and foot. My husband later told me that he sincerely hoped that no one would say something like that about our daughter at her wedding. As a pastor he knows that any marriage based on such unbalanced submission is on shaky ground. But more importantly, as a father, he would be heartbroken to see our daughter's exuberance, inquisitive nature, and passionate love for life reduced to a toast like that.

Granted, our daughter is four, so even the vague thought of a wedding is years away, but now is the time when who she is as a person gets shaped. When the values we want to impart as her parents compete with all sorts of other messages telling her what little girls should be like. Now, we have no problem with her playing at princesses and fairies or having a wardrobe of all pink. The real dangers come with those who want to limit who she is simply because she's a girl. Messages that tell her that girls cook and clean in the background while the boys explore and achieve. That tell her that her worth stems from being physically appealing to boys. Or that tell her that her voice is offensive or unwanted by God. And as much as we'd like to believe that such messages are a quaint thing of the past, we continually see them popping up in the most unlikely of places. From Cinderella's maxim that to be beautiful is to be good (and to be ugly is to be evil), to Snow White sitting around waiting for her prince to come, to Sunday school lessons that focus exclusively on the male heroes of the Bible, she encounters values that will restrict her sense of self.

While I as a mother can encourage her to pursue her dreams and to not listen to those messages, in today's world fathers must also play a major role in challenging those limitations. Daughters need not be told by daddy that they can be whoever they want to be and then witness daddy go watch TV while mommy cooks dinner and does the dishes. Or overhear daddy tell others that they play soccer well "for a girl." Fathers, now more than ever, need to be aware of how they help shape the way girls view themselves as people and in relation to men.

My daughter, like many young girls, is a total daddy's girl, and constantly seeks his approval and mimics his actions. This special relationship provides fathers with the chance to encourage their daughters to develop into whole people. In our home, we do our best to show our daughter that both mommy and daddy work, and cook, and clean, and change diapers, and take time to relax. My husband plays dress-up fairies as well as lightsaber duels with my daughter. He doesn't want to push her into the preconceived box of "this is the way girls are," but encourages her to be herself and use her active imagination. We are, of course, making many mistakes along the way, but I am grateful that my husband is being the type of father my daughter needs in order to grow up not into a set of stereotyped expectations, but into a healthy and whole version of herself.

Julie Clawson is the author of the forthcoming book Everyday Justice (IVP 2009). She blogs at julieclawson.com and emergingwomen.us.

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